Mayoral hopefuls, from left to right, Christine Quinn, Bill Thompson, John Liu, Tom Allon and Bill De Blasio, discuss city education policies.
When the five leading mayoral candidates were asked on Monday how they would select the next schools chancellor at a forum on city education policy, the presumed longshot had the most specific answer.
Newspaper publisher Tom Allon, who recently switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican, was the only candidate to name names — and his shortlist contained an eclectic mix of people.
He started with Eric Nadelstern, a former Department of Education deputy who is bullish on school closures and other Bloomberg administration policies, then moved to Hunter College President Jennifer Raab before naming Linda Darling-Hammond, a Stanford University education professor who has been critical of policies favored by the Bloomberg administration. To round out his list, he named John White, who became Louisiana's school superintendent not long after leaving the city Department of Education in 2011.
Allon's list elicited laugher and whoops of surprise from the audience, as well as a disapproving remark from Comptroller John Liu, who was sitting beside Allon on the stage. The forum was hosted by Manhattan Media, the company that Allon owns, with help from GothamSchools. (View the entire event.)
The one thing all of people on Allon's list have in common is that they have experience working with schools and educators, which Mayor Bloomberg's three chancellors have not had. Bloomberg's first and longest-serving chancellor, Joel Klein, drew criticism because he had come from the corporate world, and most of the candidates were eager to say they would not make the same decision. Liu, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and former comptroller Bill Thompson all promised to choose an educator to lead the schools.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was the only outlier. She said she did not think the next schools chancellor should necessarily have an education background.
Has President Obama finally picked a side in the education wars? Three prominent New Yorkers are worrying that he is at least leaning — and that it's not in the right direction.
Deborah Meier, the respected small schools pioneer, said President Obama's appointment of Arne Duncan as education secretary "leaves me sad." Today, Diane Ravitch, the NYU historian and Meier's blogging partner, described Duncan as "Margaret Spellings in drag." "This is not change I can believe in," she wrote in Politico. And on Saturday, Ann Cook, another small-school movement doyenne, said she is also concerned about Obama's choice of Duncan.
All three women sympathize with the "Broader, Bolder" manifesto, which argues that schools alone cannot be expected to close the achievement gap and whose members are more suspicious of popular innovations such as charter schools and test-driven accountability systems. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein leads another camp, which strongly supports test-based accountability, the No Child Left Behind law, and charter schools. Klein's Education Equality Project circulated a rival petition.
Obama made a point of not selecting a side in the debate. He chose two top education advisers, one from each camp. And he touted his chosen education secretary, Duncan, who had signed both petitions, as a pragmatist. But in the last few weeks, concerns about Duncan have begun to surface.
The panel where Linda Darling-Hammond spoke yesterday.
Linda Darling-Hammond may be feared and loathed by the younger reform set, but among the people who sat with me last night on the Upper East Side to watch her talk, she is such a star! Before the start of the panel, put on by Bank Street College of Education, all I could hear was the simultaneous sound of my Blackberry buzzing with eager e-mails about her and audience members asking their neighbors, "Has Linda arrived yet?"
She finally did, apparently via the very last available train to New York from Washington, D.C., where she had been for Barack Obama's inauguration. At the panel, she quickly made it clear how dramatically accountability regimes would change if she is given a major role in the Obama administration. (Of course, that's a big if: Though Darling-Hammond chaired the education policy team for Obama's transition, it's looking like those who have the ear of new Education Secretary Arne Duncan come from a different set. She didn't comment on this yesterday.)
Darling-Hammond laid out a dramatic picture of how she hopes Obama will change American schools, one that (for the most part) differed substantially from the vision currently in vogue, the "idealocrat" program Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has pushed. Darling-Hammond's big idea is to move America away from a factory model of education, where teachers are seen as trade workers, and toward a model that treats teachers as just as important as doctors or lawyers. The change, as she sees it, requires that teachers are given better and more extensive training, and that the federal government change the way it evaluates their work, moving from No Child Left Behind's standardized test-based system into one based on sensitive open-ended assessments that schools might create themselves.
She hinted that the last part might be the biggest challenge — to "get the measuring right."
In case you were not fully convinced, it appears that, yes, Teach For America is flexing its muscle to influence Barack Obama's Secretary of Education pick. The organization is concerned about the possibility that Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who has criticized TFA and is chairing Obama's education policy committee, could get a prominent role in the Obama administration.
In a mass e-mail today, Teach For America urged alumni to "stay on top of about [sic] what is happening and not happening regarding education reform at the national and local levels." The e-mail (pasted below) also directed them to the Web site of TFA's new political group, Leadership for Education Equity, where alumni are invited to post comments on several Web sites (including this one), saying, "Decision makers do watch online reactions." We hope so!
Here's the e-mail, after the jump:
The Wall Street Journal reported last night that a Stanford professor, Linda Darling-Hammond, will chair Obama's transition team studying education policy. This sounds unremarkable, but just like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein are lightning rods, so is Darling-Hammond.
The main reason is that Darling-Hammond has been consistently skeptical of the nameless movement's efforts to shake up public schools. She has criticized Teach For America, the alternative certification program for teachers; criticized high-stakes testing, and criticized No Child Left Behind for narrowing the curriculum. The passions these criticisms elicit is sometimes unbelievable. About a year and a half ago, I watched a grown man clasp a grown woman by the shoulders, look her in the eye, and vow to work together to prevent Darling-Hammond from being named U.S. Education Secretary. You can find vitriol pretty easily on the Internet, too.
The vitriol accelerated to another level altogether when Darling-Hammond's was the first name to emerge as education adviser to the Obama campaign. "Reformers" were placated when it turned out that Jon Schnur, the founder of an alternative principal-training program and one of their own, was Darling-Hammond's co-chair on that advisory board. It's possible that right now, the WSJ story is repeating that pattern: Maybe Obama has abandoned his Team of Rivals approach and tossed Schnur to the sidelines, but equally possible is that Schnur will once again turn up as Darling-Hammond's co-chair.
Whether Schnur joins her or not, Darling-Hammond will stir up emotions. The best evidence is her Wikipedia page.